Regulation and Choice

Andrew Ferguson tells the story of federal regulation of toilets (via overlawyered).  The amazing thing about this story is it is just one examples of thousands -- in other words, its not a humorous outlier, it is the rule of how government works today.  It is a common story of technocrats distrusting market signals and individual preferences, hoping to impose a better order from above, but merely resulting in reduced consumer choice and crappy low-flow toilets even in areas of the country flush with water (sorry, couldn't resist).

The grassroots revolt winked out too. Today's toilets are better than the
first 1995 models, though not as good or as cheap as the toilets of our youth.
U.S. consumers in 2006 can thus buy a worse product at a higher price than they
could in 1992, thanks to the government's insistence on fixing a problem that
wasn't there.

With a chill I remember, from the late 1990s, the look a plumber shot me when
I pleaded with him, quietly, to find me a toilet that worked.

``No way,'' he said. ``I'm not going to jail over a toilet.''

It also is yet another example of regulation primarily being supported by incumbents in an industry trying to limit the number of ways potential new competitors can come at them.  The general effect is always to raise prices and reduce consumer choice.  Ironically, consumer groups are often the worst about this.   In fact, it would be interesting to find even one regulation consumer groups have supported that is not primarily aimed at actually reducing consumer choice - i.e. not of the form "consumers shouldn't buy this because we smarter than they are and we think they should not have it."


  1. Max Schwing:

    Ha, I don't find this soo astounishing, since I live in a country that even claims to know what is cover material and what not. Well, the EU is really bizarre when it comes to regulations. They even define what exactly is an average man (up to an centimeter) and what is a proper working place (down to the foot height Oo).
    I think this is the nature of state and it was only a matter of time and information process power until the state started with this ;)

  2. Lenny:

    So the proper way to deal with the problem (in the areas where it actually is a problem) would be to allow the cost of water to rise to its un-tampered-with market price, leading consumers to willingly find ways to stop flushing so much of it down the toilet.

    What a concept! We should tell people about this - surely they'll understand!

  3. Max Schwing:

    Well, isn't that what Bush preached after Katrina? We must starve our consumption? Market-prices would have done that in an instant, so where is the problem with the voluntary solution?
    Ahh, yes, the crisis might be shorter....

  4. Matt:

    My great-grandfather made a pretty fair sum of money in the '20s hauling booze across the border from Canada. I made...well, rather less, but still more than you'd think, hauling toilets across the very same border in the '90s. (If installing a toilet were as easy as drinking, I'd be filthy rich right now. Unfortunately, most people hire a plumber to install their toilet for them, and few plumbers are willing to risk prison just to make sure other people's turds go down the drain in one flush.)